By Helen Fitzgerald, CT
When my beloved poodle Rusty died, it was so nice to receive condolence notes from friends who were also pet lovers. Others, even though they were kind, really didn’t know what to do or what to say. Many people who do not have pets fail to understand the deep bond between a pet and its owner. They may be puzzled at the amount of grief they see when a pet dies. “It’s just an animal” may be the thought that passes through their minds.
When my aunt’s dog died, I asked her for a picture of “Poochy.” This pleased her to no end, and she sent several, one of which I pasted in my daily calendar and look at frequently. Curious friends and colleagues often ask me about the picture, and this gives me a chance to explain. I was also pleased when a neighbor of mine asked for a picture of my dog, Rusty.
Pets are loyal, faithful friends. They become part of the family and develop unique personalities. They offer unconditional love and show that love daily. Of course we grieve when they die. The loss is immense and the void felt is great.
I have noticed commercial cards for pet loss. These work, but it is still better to send a short, handwritten note. If a friend of yours has suffered the loss of a pet, here are some suggestions for writing a condolence note.
WHAT TO WRITE:
You could simply start by saying: “I am so sorry that Puffy died. I know she meant a lot to you, and I am going to miss her, too.”
If you have had a pet die, you might be able to add, “I can remember so clearly how badly I felt when my Max died.”
Nothing more is needed, but if you wish, you could add some personal memory you have of your friend’s pet. For example, a neighbor told me she would often see Rusty and me outside whenever we would pass her house. She said she still glances outside expecting Rusty to be there. Another friend said she’ll always remember my 7-pound Rusty ready to take on all the really big dogs in the neighborhood. As with relatives who have died, we like to hear others’ stories that assure us that our pets, too, were appreciated as they lived out their lives.
IDEA TO AVOID:
Right after a pet has died is not the time to suggest a replacement. People need to grieve for the one who died before they can love a new pet. If another pet is brought into the home too quickly, people will want it to be exactly like the one who died, setting themselves up for disappointment.
Depending on your relationship with the pet owner, there probably isn’t much more that needs to be said. It’s the spontaneity of the message that is most touching, along with the recognition of a loss not always understood by others. Mortality is something we humans share with our pets, and in both cases it comes all too soon. Recognizing and sympathizing with each other’s losses is part of what it means to be a human being.